On Campus: The 2nd or 3rd-grade teacher

teacher_ray.jpg During my stop at Lake Superior College in Duluth on Wednesday, I didn’t have to ask Ray Ballard if he thinks the plunging economy will affect his future; it already has. Things were going pretty well for Ballard and his wife when they lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He was working on designing a children’s ministry for an alumnus of the school in Tulsa where he’d pursued a degree in children’s ministry. His wife was a film processor for Fuji until six plants were closed and she lost her job last February.

Indiana had raised its property tax on some people and the Ballards went from paying $1,600 a year to $3,800 a year. Without one income, and with the house becoming unaffordable, they returned to their native Duluth. You’re not dreaming. Someone moved to Minnesota because the taxes were higher somewhere else.

The Ballards may well be a model for surviving in the new economy. They took some classes on budgeting, realized that Americans spend 102% of what they earn, and pared down expenses. “We”re on our way to becoming debt free. We don’t carry any plastic in our pockets,” he says.

His wife found work in Duluth, and — because he fell in love with teaching — he’s in the education program at Lake Superior College, looking to be a 2nd or 3rd-grade teacher.

“I’ve been working with at-risk youths and families, I actually worked with HUD for awhile in North Tulsa at a Section 8 site, and the adults didn’t want to do much, but the kids did. They wanted to really learn… they really wanted to see how they could better their life,” he said. “It inspired me even more to want to teach.”

When he finishes up at Lake Superior this spring, he’ll go to the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth thanks to scholarships. “I’ve earned about $13,000 in scholarships so far and that pays for half the tuition.”

He thinks there’s a real future for young teachers in northern Minnesota. Most of the teachers, he says, are retirement age. “The reason they’re holding onto their jobs is because of health insurance and if they leave their jobs… they’re going to be left like many Americans, wondering how they’re going to pay for things.”

Teaching is not a moneymaker, he acknowledges, but “none of the fields I’ve been in has been a moneymaker. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I love the people I work with.”

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